James Bond’s Aston Martin. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Norm Mort
After careful hours of viewing consideration, here are my personal choices for the top ten car films. Included are a brief synopsis and other important data. Most are available as rentals, or for purchase.
1. Grand Prix: This popular 1966 film about Formula One Grand Prix racing starring James Garner and Eva Marie Saint produced stunning racing scenes and sounds that earned it two Oscars. It is still considered one of the best F1 films for driving and racing shots despite the fact many of the cars were actually Formula 2 and Formula Junior racing cars.
2. Winning: This 1968 film, which starred Paul Newman in the role of a professional race car driver along with Joanne Woodward as his girlfriend, features some fine acting and realistic racing scenes. You’ll see stock cars, Can-Am cars (including a Canadian-built 1967 McKee), as well as Indy cars. Newman drives the cars like a pro which is why he eventually won a number of big time championships and races in “real” racing.
Steve McQueen in Bullitt. Click image to enlarge
3. The Italian Job: Both the new films and 1969 movie are all great car action flicks. I still like the original starring three great British performers, Michael Caine, Noel Coward and Benny Hill. It is best remembered for its fantastic driving scenes in the Mini Coopers and its ultimate cliffhanger ending.
4. Goldfinger: This 1964, third in the James Bond series, starred Sean Connery and Gert Frobe – who couldn’t really speak English. They shared the spotlight with the fabulous Aston Martin DB5, which in reality was a DB4 Vantage reworked as the DB5 prototype for the 1963 London Earl’s Court motor show.
5. Grease: “Give me more, give me more…..” Hey, a 1978 musical with lots of cool cars and Olivia Newton-John and John Trivolta. Not only does this dynamic duo sing about such things as headers, four-on-the-floor, and dual-quad lifters, they even race late-1940s and fifties cars in dry river beds.
6. Bullitt: This 1968 classic motion picture starred Steve McQueen and co-starred a 1968 Mustang fastback with a 390ci V8 engine, and a 1968 Charger, in one of the most famous chase scenes ever filmed. Frank Keller won an Oscar for editing. The roller coaster ride stunt scene ended via a “tow and release”. McQueen’s Mustang was actually towing the Charger with two dummies inside when he pulled a release lever and the Charger headed off into the gas station where it exploded in flames.
7. The French Connection: This 1971 classic won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Gene Hackman), and Best Director (William Friedkin). Bill Hickman is seen doing the spectacular stunt driving. He was the driver of the Charger in Bullit.
Steve McQueen in Le Mans. Click image to enlarge
8. The Duel: This 1972 little nail biter was an early Steven Spielberg film made for TV, and starred Dennis Weaver as the driver of a rented Plymouth Valiant pursued by an 18-wheeler. A “must see,” since Weaver was the big name, taking a chance on unknown Spielberg.
9. Le Mans: This 1971 film was all Steve McQueen’s idea. In 1970 he had finished second in a Porsche at Sebring behind Mario Andretti. McQueen wanted to enter the actual race and compete with a camera attached to the roof. He qualified for the 24-hour race, but the producers refused. The track was rented after the event and McQueen drove the 700-hp Porsche 917 with prop cars and real race footage combined. Great for Porsche and road race enthusiasts, but a lousy film for movie fans who expect a story too.
10. Smokey and the Bandit: This 1977 movie is almost one continuous chase scene and starred Burt Reynolds, Sally Fields, Jackie Gleason and Jerry Reed. There were more movies in the Smokey series released in 1980, ’81 and ’83, but this one was the best and also the first movie directed by master stuntman Hall Needham.
Honorable mentions go to such classics as the London to Brighton run in “Genevieve,” “The Yellow Rolls-Royce,” “American Graffiti,” “Tucker,” and the rarely seen 1945 “The Notorious Gentleman,” starring Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer for its great pre-war racing scenes.